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Strawberries are ripe and ready for picking at area farms

| Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Strawberries will be ready to pick this weekend at many Western Pennsylvania farms, despite a cool, wet spring and the goats.

At Reilly's Summer Seat Farms in Ohio Township, the goats got loose and ate the strawberries.

"We had to replant," says customer relations specialist Murphy Meider with a laugh. "And you can't pick berries when they're wet or they'll mold. We should have them by (today), especially if the sun keeps shining."

The sweet red berries signal an early taste of summer, followed by blueberries next month and then raspberries. Numerous local farms offer pick-your-own berries, usually from $1.19 to $1.50 per pound. Trax Farms in Finleyville and Soergel Orchards in Franklin Park are celebrating this weekend with a strawberry festival.

Still, the berries at Trax are about eight days behind compared to last year because of the cool spring.

"We're just later than last year but it's looking very good," says owner Robert Trax. "If it heats up to sunny and 80 degrees, it'll bring it on faster. The berries came out of winter looking real good.

And there's no need to feel guilty after you've eaten a bowlful of strawberries. Eight berries have more vitamin C than a single orange, and are also a significant source of folic acid, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease and birth defects.

At Paskorz Farm in West Deer, owner Joe Paskorz says that their berries are healthy and big despite the weather.

"Our berries are fantastic -- this could be a bumper crop," he says. "They're real nice. This is one the nicest crops I've had here in 10 years."

Carolyn Beinlich, one of the owners of Triple B Farms in Forward Township, also will have berries available for picking this weekend, though she said they're a little late.

"There hasn't been enough heat and the nights have not been very warm," Beinlich says. "It needs to be in the seventies for the berries to ripen. But the berries are starting to look pink."

Come and get it!

Strawberries are season first at many farms now, followed by blueberries at the end of June and raspberries in July and August. Unless otherwise noted, strawberries will be ready to pick this weekend. Prices listed are for strawberries.

Allegheny County

Paskorz Farm: Strawberries this month, followed by blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends, starting today. 36 Starr Road, West Deer. $1.49 per pound. 724-265-3073.

Soergel Orchards: Strawberries, probably will be available on Saturday. Call for details. Strawberry festival is scheduled for Sunday. Regular hours are 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends starting next week. 2573 Brandt School Road, Franklin Park. $1.09 per pound. 724-935-1743. .

Reilly's Summer Seat Farm: Strawberries this month, golden raspberries next month. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. 1120 Roosevelt Road, Ohio Township. $1.19 per pound. 412-364-8662. .

Triple B Farms: Strawberries now, raspberries next month, blackberries in August. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. 823 Berry Lane, Foward Township. $1.29 per pound. 724-258-3557. .

Butler County

Huff Strawberry Farm: Strawberries aren't ready yet so the farm isn't open. Call 724-865-9593 next week to find out when the berries will be ready. Prospect, Butler County.

Synder's Farm: Strawberries should be ready next week. 8 a.m. until dusk weekdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, starting today. Route 68 in Chicora, six miles northeast of Butler. $1.19 per pound. 724-445-3116.

Washington County

Simmons Farm: Strawberries aren't ready yet; call for details. Starting next week, the hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. 170 Simmons Road, McMurray. $1.50 per pound. 724-941-1490.

Trax Farms: Strawberries, blueberries. Strawberry festival scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Regular hours are 8 a.m. to noon and 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to noon on weekends. 528 Trax Road, Finleyville. $1.49 per pound. 412-835-3246.

Westmoreland County

The Berry Patch: Seven varieties of blueberries starting the last week of June. 8 a.m. to dark, seven days a week, during berry season. Rural Route 1 Blueberry Lane, New Florence. Located seven miles north of Ligonier on Route 711. Look for the sign to Antiochian Village. 724-238-4714.

Fayette County

Duda's Farm: Strawberries available now, peak season starts next week. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. 157 Creek Road, Brownsville. $1.25 per pint. 724-246-7601.

Quick strawberry bites

  • Spread strawberry halves with mascarpone, and top with a pecan half

  • Serve sliced berries with goat cheese drizzled with honey

  • Fruit dip: Combine heavy whipping cream and softened cream cheese in equal amounts. Whip until fluffy. Add sweetened coconut.

  • Inside-out chocolate berries - dip sliced sides of berry halves in melted chocolate, then put the berry back together.

  • Strawberry buffet: Place berries with stems on a platter and provide accompaniments to dip the berries in. Some suggestions: coconut, cream fraiche; balsamic vinegar, Marsala wine, brown sugar

  • Strawberry sauce: Halve or quarter strawberries, with stems removed, and puree in a blender. Add honey or sugar and vanilla extract to taste. Serve over ice cream or in smoothies.

  • Inside-out shortcake: Macerate halved or quartered strawberries (depending on size) in orange liqueur to taste, then fill a hollowed-out angel food cake with the mixture. Serve with freshly whipped heavy cream.

    Best picks

  • Go early in the morning; if you pick during the hottest part of the day the fruit will become soft and bruise more easily.

  • Small berries are often the sweetest ones.

  • Take only the berries that are fully red. If they're still white on the tips, they need a few more days of sun.

  • To pick, hold the stem about a half-inch from the strawberry and with your forefinger and your thumbnail and give it a slight twist. Then let the berry roll into the palm of your hand. Carefully place each piece of fruit in a container.

  • Use shallow, wide containers, and only make a few layers so the weight of the berries on top won't damage the ones below.

  • Get the berries home quickly. Don't keep them in the car.

    Source: , Martha Stewart Living Additional Information:

    Berry tips

  • To store, seal the berries in air-tight plastic containers lined with paper towels. Fresh berries are best eaten within three days.

  • Do not remove the stems and do not wash berries before storing.

  • To clean, gently place the berries in a bowl of cold water and swish them around.

  • Strawberries can be frozen, but the texture will never be the same as fresh. Such berries should be reserved for drinks or sauces.

    For more tips on berries, log onto .

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